Rumors of major enforcement

I know exactly what a Social Security Administration no-match letter looks like. We receive them yearly, sometimes all in one day, five or six in one stack on the dining room table. To be honest, they sort of make me laugh, announcing the government’s lame attempts to cover its large ass.

Until, well, apparently next week, an undocumented worker using an invented Social Security number would receive said letter each year, proclaiming that the name and number did not match the Social Security Administration’s records, and requesting the employee do something to fix this discrepancy. Considering there is no enforcement whatsoever, the employee, and the employer, also notified, did nothing.

I recall the first time we received these letters at the Asian fast-casual restaurant where Fermin and met and worked for several years. I was given the task, with my meager Spanish, of explaining that each employee had to sign a piece of paper stating they received notification that their Social Security number did match. That was it. I was sort of freaked out, and my boss said this was completely normal. Wink wink.
This was possibly the start of my education in the ways of the undocumented worker and the companies eager to hire them. I’m not saying this restaurant went out of its way to hire undocumented Mexican workers, but those were the only applicants, for the most part, that could handle the kitchen. In fact, when we opened, we had a rather diverse kitchen staff – a few Asian high school kids off for the summer looking for a fun job, a few Mexicans, a few aimless recent high-school grads forced by their mom to put down the remote/video-game control and get a job. Guess which ones worked out? I eventually became the supervisor of this wonderful group of Mexican employees, and they taught me a TON. One excellent kitchen manager made $12 per hour, so these weren’t minimum wage employees.
For many restaurants, this scenario is completely normal. There is no virtually no enforcement of the Social Security number mismatches, yet state, federal, Social Security and Medicaid taxes are deducted as with anyone else. As the immigration debate has boiled over in recent years, there is the occasional comment that if employers and the government would simply enforce the laws as they stand now, we would not have this problem. And in one way, this is completely true. Many people blame the immigrant workers, but neglect to ponder how much government-employer-undocumented immigrant collaboration actually has gone on to make this whole system work that way is is, or isn’t.

And while part of me wishes we could return to the days when the media and the politicians ignored these people and just let them go about their hard-working business, I know that will never happen. And if our elected officials are too afraid to pass laws that will actually expand legal immigration to meet the needs of our economy, I guess all we can expect is to watch the Department of Homeland Security start enforcing what it has to enforce, no matter what economic, social and cultural consequences it may have.

(In addition to the link to an LA Times article under the words “apparently next week,” above, a more comprehensive piece was published today in the New York Times).


7 Responses to Rumors of major enforcement

  1. Gabacha Yucateca says:

    I’ve watched it get harder and harder to live without proper documentation in the US, and I don’t see the old trucos to living under the radar as working for much longer.

    I was interpreting for a couple of people at our free income tax assistance site last April, and a woman had a copy of her “does not match” letter with her. She had been working there for years and the employer also received the letter each year, and they both just ignored it. This year, because of the climate surrounding immigration, she and all of her co-workers were laid off when they received the letter because the employer no longer wanted to run the risk.

  2. laurafern says:

    Yes, that’s not surprising. I’m worried about my in-laws. A number of them work for the largest Mexican grocer in town, which ironically just opened up a brand new supermarket-style store that was in theory to replace the much smaller, original store that packed an older storefront building right across. They also have three other medium-sized stores and a huge tortilla factory. The funny thing is, the vast majority of the entire company’s patrons are Mexican and other immigrants, certainly a large percentage are undocumented.

    When they opened the new supermarket, the idea was to close the old one a few weeks later, but they hired all “people with papers” for the new store, and according to my sisters-in-law, the service is poor and at least half the patrons prefer the older, smaller store, which really does feel like Mexico inside.

    The disturbing part is that there are rumors that the owner of the company is trying to phase out all his undocumented workers, even though his business depends on them on various levels. The owner is was an EWI who was legalized during the amnesty of 1986, so his actions are rather ironic. Now the store’s patrons, mostly undocumented workers, are still patronizing the old store, because they like it better.

    Sort of a bunny trail, but I’ll be watching to see what happens on that local end if this really goes into effect.

  3. John Calypso says:

    While the US Government is compelled to send out those letters – it is obvious this is NOT an area they are apt to change their act on in as much as they are keeping a LOT of unclaimed immigrant SSI money.

    Seldom is it mentioned just how much unclaimed social security is taken in each year – but we all hear about how many dollars are spent on social services for these undocumented immigrants – grrrr.

    John Calypso

  4. laurafern says:

    Agreed John – that’s an interesting piece of the puzzle, the billions that immigrants with false Social Security numbers put into the system never to take out….

    As an aside, my husband used the same invented Social for nearly eight years. Now that he has a real one, there is the question of whether those accumulated benefits can somehow be transferred… and from discussions on the immigration forum I’m part of, the answer appears to be “no.”


  5. Gabacha Yucateca says:

    I know what they say about economics and statistics, but I wish there were an accurate accounting of what is paid into SS and never received vs the cost of the services provided to under or mis-documented immigrants.

    Laura…I’ve seen discussion of your question on the Juarez forum before, and there is some info over there that makes me think that the answer might be “yes!” May be worth a looksie!

  6. laurafern says:

    Really… That’s interesting. I’ll have to look into it! Thanks!

  7. Jeff Davis says:

    Ms. Fernandez, perhaps you saw the August 8 story by Julia Preston in The New York Times. The sub-headline reads “Firing to Be Mandatory in Use of False Social Security Number”.
    Meanwhile, you might be interested in a July 25 news story in The Washington Times ( I am sure that it is one of your least favorite publications, but sometimes there are some interesting stories. The lead paragraph of the article by Stephen Dinan states “Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, an architect of the Democratic campaign that regained control of the House last year, says his party will not atempt comprehensive immigration until at least the second term of a prospective Democratic president.” That would indicate 2013 at the earliest. So, there may be a long wait for some major immigration reform. Some smaller measures may become law in the meantime.

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